We Don’t Deserve Masahiro Sakurai

They always say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but I can’t help but wish I could sit down with Masahiro Sakurai for lunch.

During my time as a self-described “hobby freelancer video game journalist” I’ve researched many game developers, and I’ve learned that many of them turn out to be quite flawed and controversial people. None of us are perfect, but my research has led to major disappointments on more than one occasion. After making a lengthy article about the Gone Home creators at Fullbright studio, I’ve since learned that the lead developer Steve Gaynor was quite demeaning to the women he worked with. I’m considering making an update to that post, but at the moment all of those thoughts are gathering dust in a Draft folder. I still don’t now how to tackle it properly. Not even Nintendo of America is immune — Kotaku’s recent expose of full-time Nintendo employees harassing contractors definitely took the wind out of my sails after I read it a few weeks ago. Thankfully Doug Bowser is investigating this, but all my attempts at writing something substantial about those events just ended up as paper balls on my computer’s desktop trash bin.

After so many years of letdowns, I’ve learned not to project my feelings about a game onto a company or a game developer. Just because Super Smash Bros. Melee gave me rosy memories that will last my entire lifetime doesn’t mean that Masahiro Sakurai is necessarily a likeable person, or even a good person. His habit of overworking certainly has me concerned, particularly if he expects that same self-destructive behavior for the rest of his employees, but that’s about as bad as it gets with him. It’s certainly unhealthy, but it’s not to the same low that I’ve seen other developers fall into.

Forgive this callous and jaded heart of mine, but if Masahiro Sakurai is secretly a bad person, then he has done a phenomenal job at hiding it. He was the first developer that I did a study on, and throughout my research, I could not find a speck of dirt on him. And in the years since, every time I see him present about the newest Smash character or write in his weekly column for Famitsu, I can’t help but think that this guy is the real deal. Maybe in a few years Sakurai gets exposed for something that blasts him off of my pedestal, but the more that time passes, the less likely that seems.

Sakurai recently created a YouTube channel called Masahiro Sakurai on Creating Games. He goes over the fundamentals of game design in a way that casual fans can understand and appreciate. He’s even covering his own games, discussing his approach to making them. I’m curious to see how accurate my analyses are of his games, though if there’s a lot of overlap that also means he’ll make my work obsolete. Anyway, at every turn Sakurai is trying the best he can to make the gaming community better, whether that’s engaging with fans, explaining the history of a game series, or even helping to teach us how games work.

Will this man ever take a break?

When I saw this channel and discovered that it was real, my initial reaction was apprehension. I don’t think that he’ll overwork himself with it; I’m sure he’s hired editors to do that work for him. But I was concerned about the fans. I can easily see fans spamming his channel with questions and demands about the newest Smash game. However, after seeing the initial reaction online, I think things are going very well so far. Sakurai has already hosted many Livestreams about Smash DLC characters, so maybe he’s used to dealing with entitled fans. At any rate, he doesn’t need an American stranger like myself trying to protect him.

Normally I don’t write about video game news, but Sakurai’s project is so aligned with the kind of content that I try to put on this blog that I thought some of my readers here would appreciate hearing game design analysis from someone way more credentialed than myself. To give myself some credit, though, I did mention Sakurai’s emphasis on weighting accessibility and complexity, as well as risk vs. reward, years before he confirmed it himself in a recent video. I can’t wait to see what else he puts out. And I hope everyone realizes that a AAA game developer like Sakurai, who’s simultaneously approachable to fans but also admired among other developers, is rare. This man genuinely wants the industry to get better, and he works tirelessly to achieve that goal. Someone please give him an award already.

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